Bus Simulator 21: Next Stop is not the refined PS5 showcase you’re going to show to all your friends. Despite benefitting from a couple years of extra iteration, this expanded new-gen port is still scrappy, with buggy AI behaviour and an underlying sense that the game code is almost falling apart behind-the-scenes. That said, few series strike a zen-like appeal quite like this, where it’s easy to just zone out and drive your routes. It’s a bright and breezy experience throughout.
For those who’ve never touched this franchise, it straddles the line between tycoon and straight-up simulator. You need to build transportation routes in the fictional – and expanded – city of Angel Shores, which offers a very European flavour of Americana. The original German-inspired Seaside Valley is also available, although we’d argue this has a lot less identity than the US map, which is filled with memorable districts and landmarks.
There’s a guided story mode which assigns you specific quests as you build up your empire, but a newly added career option allows you to skip all the guff and just dig right into the good stuff. Building balanced routes that serve the needs of commuters and then driving them is the core loop here. As you perform better – stopping in the right spot, indicating correctly, and so on – you’ll accrue stars which will influence how effectively your AI drivers fulfil the routes while you’re busy elsewhere.
It’s a smart gameplay structure because it encourages you to drive perfectly in order to maximise your income while you setup and complete other routes. It’s also surprisingly dynamic: you’ll have to deal with all sorts of obstacles, like customers asking to get off the bus before the next stop, ticket dodgers, and serial litterers. All of this pairs with a strong sense of humour, as you listen to the inane babble of the patrons sitting on the seats behind you.
While the game doesn’t look particularly pretty, it does run at 60 frames-per-second on PS5, and the developer has implemented haptic feedback and the adaptive triggers, which help communicate the feel of driving a gigantic double-decker. Post-release support is en-route, too, promising new school bus-inspired gameplay and trams, so there’s a lot of life left in this one even once you’ve mastered the extensive content available on day one.